Encounters

Welcome to my site. The title, The Quality of Light, is the first four words of Audre Lorde’s essay, “Poetry is Not a Luxury.” If you are  unfamiliar with the essay, I hope you will read it. Here is the first sentence to entice you a bit more: “The quality of light by which we scrutinize our lives has direct bearing upon the product which we live, and upon the changes which we hope to bring about through those lives.”

Although this blog is centered in poetry, I hope it appeals to many. In each posting you’ll find three things: an original poem of mine, a brief discussion of a poetic element, and links to further readings and viewings, be they poems, books, essays, events, or other.

POEM –
Encounters

We’re at the Nepalese Restaurant in Boulder
and this reminds my nephew’s mother of living
outside of Swayambhunath, the Monkey Temple
of Nepal. In her memory she is walking
up the hill towards her apartment where she has views
of the temple, and while she is walking up hill,
she is carrying a bag of fruit. It will be four days
before she will descend for another bag of fruit.
She is walking up the hill and a wild rhesus monkey
jumps on her, hangs on to the front of her, bares its teeth,
screams in her face for the bag of fruit.
The monkey is large, and, if on the ground
it would be as tall as her waist, maybe taller,
but now it is on her chest, its hands clasped
on her shoulders, fangs inches from her own mouth.
Still she will not give up her fruit.
It was a long walk to get it and it will be four days
before she will go to the market again. So,
she begins to twirl, her hand clutching the fruit high in the air,
and she twirls, faster and faster, and from deep inside her,
a scream is released back into the monkey’s face.
There in Nepal in the street amidst shrines
is a woman with a monkey on her front
and they are twirling and screaming,
and twirling and screaming until the monkey
heaves a great sigh, jumps down, and scampers off.
And my nephew’s mother, the woman I am just
meeting for the first time, walks up the hill.

 

POETIC ELEMENT –
Line Breaks
A poem’s lines are one element that makes a poem a poem. Easy enough. But when dealing with a free-verse poem, when should you split the line? Do you complete a thought, a clause, and then continue to the next line? Do you dangle the idea and use that space to the right of the line to let the reader mull over the development of the scene/idea/feeling or to recover from a shocking/funny/sad lead-in? Or do you snap back to that left hand margin quickly after only a few words, rushing your way into the reader’s body? Of course, we do all of the above and which one we choose gives the poem its style and feel, its mojo.

 

[Check out what Ron Padgett, Sharon Olds, and Rita Dove think of line breaks here: Breaking the Line, Breaking the Narrative…]

As any literary element, the line break doesn’t function independently. In the book, The Art of the Poetic Line, James Longenbach states “The line is no arbitrary unit, no ruler, but a dynamic force that works in conjunction with other elements of the poem: the syntax of the sentences, the rhythm of stressed and unstressed syllables, and the resonance of similar sounds” (43).  In creating our lines, we must pay attention to syntax, rhythm, syllables and sounds. By doing so, we create a beautiful symbiosis. But, if we’re not careful, a sense of haphazard randomness, of incompleteness is present. The point is to be deliberate about line breaks.

Often when I am writing short choppy things, I stumble across Whitman somewhere, perhaps a line of his printed in the paper, or I’ll come across a quote of his on a website, or I’ll be looking for another poet on my shelf and Leaves of Grass is looming over all other poets. And whenever I either deliberately or accidently read Whitman, I immediately exhale, long and slow. Those long lines don’t just remind me to slow down and be in the moment, they in fact cause me to slow down; you just can’t read Whitman’s lines quickly.
I’ve had a similar experience in trying to write “sijo,” a type of Korean poetry with longer lines than I tend to write. Here’s an example:

The spring breeze melted snow on the hills then quickly disappeared.

I wish I could borrow it briefly to blow over my hair

And melt away the aging frost forming now about my ears.

                                …U T’ak (1262-1342, author of this oldest surviving sijo)

Like most poets, I can spend hours, days, months, and years chopping up my lines and then stringing them all back together. I ask myself, “What will this sound like as a prose poem?” “What happens if I forget about compression and let the wind in and the divine out like Whitman? “What happens if I go all Robert Creeley and become as concise as possible?” Of course, radically revising lines creates new poems in and of themselves. And isn’t that the fun of it?

RELATED LINKS (Poems, Places, Books, Videos, Events, etc):

 “Two Monkeys by Brueghel” (poem based on Brueghel painting)
Swayambhunath (Monkey Temple)
The Poet’s Forum, October 18-20, 2012, NYC